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Understanding the Connection Between Weight and Type 2 Diabetes

Carrying excess weight and Type 2 diabetes are twin epidemics that affect millions of Americans today. More than two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese, and weight issues are on the rise in children of all ages. Being overweight is more than a cosmetic issue though. It is the single greatest risk factor in the development of Type 2 diabetes. 

Here’s what primary physician Dr. Jonathan Leibowitz and our team want you to know about the connection between weight and Type 2 diabetes -- and what you can do to reduce your risk for developing diabetes in the future.

Fat as a necessity

We’ve come a long way in our knowledge about the role of body fat in health and disease. Once considered a mere storage form of energy, emerging research shines light on the many ways fat tissue functions and interacts with our bodies.

When you have a normal amount, body fat plays a key role in insulating your organs, absorbing and carrying fat-soluble vitamins, providing energy, and supplying essential fatty acids, among other things. It’s not only normal to have some body fat, it’s essential to your health.

The problem with excess fat

The body functions best when all things are in balance. We call this homeostasis. This dynamic state of equilibrium provides optimal conditions for the body to function at its highest level. Too much body fat, however, nudges the fine needle of balance away from health and in favor of disease.

Scientists are still learning how excess fat impacts health, but we do know that carrying excess weight negatively impacts almost every organ and system in the body.

All body fat is not created equal

Your body has different types of fat, and they don’t function the same. Brown fat is beneficial and functions more like a muscle. It can rapidly produce heat to keep you warm, and when it does, it burns calories.

Visceral fat is a highly active form of excess fat stored around important organs, such as the liver, pancreas, and intestines. It’s having too much of this type of fat that puts you most at risk for Type 2 diabetes.

When we look at the way fat interacts with systems in the body, it’s fair to say that fat functions more like an endocrine organ. Fat produces hormones, secretes proteins, and communicates with other cells and organs.

Visceral fat and insulin resistance

Visceral fat raises the risk for Type 2 diabetes in several ways. When you have too much visceral fat, it triggers a chronic, low level of inflammation. Under normal circumstances inflammation is a healthy, temporary response to injury or disease. However, low-level, lasting inflammation is linked to an increased risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

Additionally, visceral fat secretes a protein called retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP-4). This protein reduces how well your body responds to the blood sugar-lowering hormone insulin, thereby promoting insulin resistance. In fact, research suggests RBP-4 may be a useful marker in Type 2 diabetes as blood levels of this protein are significantly higher in people with insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes. This fat-derived protein may hold the key to a clearer understanding of the link between obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Until then, what we know is that 90% of people with diabetes are overweight or obese, and that the higher your body mass index (BMI) the higher your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. We also know that even modest weight loss has a powerful effect on reducing the risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Taking action

If you’re worried about your weight and how it’s affecting your health, you can take steps to turn things around so that you live a longer, healthier life. Dr. Leibowitz offers medically supervised weight-loss programs to help you get to a healthier weight. For more information, call our office in Brooklyn, New York City, and speak with one of our helpful team members to schedule an appointment. Or you can book online today while you’re here on our website.

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